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The Woman Behind DC Web Fest: Otessa Ghadar

Otessa Ghadar

Photo by Camille Coleman

Eight years ago, a graduate film student at Columbia University convinced her advisors that her senior thesis should be a web series. Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden went on to become the longest continually running web series on the internet, currently in its final season. It won multiple awards and launched the career that film student, DC Native and LGBT activist Otessa Ghadar. She is also an author, teacher, and owner of 20/20 Productions, which will host the 3rd annual DC Web Fest on May 2 at the Goethe-Institut in Chinatown.

Tagg Magazine: There seems to be two threads running through your career, activism and filmmaking. What drew you to these disciplines?

Otessa Ghadar: I started out studying totally different things: theoretical physicals and applied math, but I began to realize I’d be miserable. As a kid, I was always documenting things. I was into the riot girl thing and documented that and how it told untold stories of underrepresented people. There was this eureka moment when I realized I could do this as a career. It’s a little scary, being an entrepreneur and having your own small business. Aside from the constant fear and flying by the seat of your pants, it’s really wonderful.

Tell me about your web series Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden, which seemed to launch everything that has come after.

It’s the longest running and longest titled! If I had known I was going to do it for so long, I would have picked a more friendly title. When I was in graduate school, there were only a handful of web series, but it struck me that they could be the democratization of this medium. Everyone will be able to make films and access them from wherever. We’ll be able to tell stories that may not get a green light and the mainstream may not be interested in. The U.S. exports Honey Boo Boo and Baywatch. Where do we come up with this stuff?  It’s very upsetting to look up at the screen and never see yourself. In Orange Juice I explored the coming out of the main character and the cast’s diversity, as well as an era I have a lot of nostalgia for in the riot girl movement of the 90’s, the last of the analog age.

What has been the reaction to Orange Juice?

It’s now watched in 145 countries. The show went viral. In so many of the countries where we have spikes in viewership, homosexuality is criminalized or not discussed. People are able to watch this because it isn’t geo-blocked so they are able to find a community.

The final season is on now. What’s next for you?

I am really looking forward to another show I’m developing.  It’s feminist science fiction. It’s a study of a dystopian society and the things we give up for harmony. I continue to consult and distribute other web series as well, so I’m always looking to curate and support quality content beyond the stuff coming out of movie studios – the same eight stories and their sequels.

How did the video blogging app Tapestry come about?

It’s now in beta where people share coming out stories and other kinds of stories as well. Online, the interpersonal can be lost, so Tapestry is to try to help to make sure as we go digital we don’t lose that. I want to maintain the oral tradition of storytelling and record things that would just be lost so people have a chance to write their own history.

Tell me about the Wild West of Film, the text book you wrote, and why it’s so important to you.

When I started doing this, it was still very new and I learned a lot through making mistakes, which was fun and exciting. But I thought it would be great if I could spare people some of that learning curve. I created the text book to help teachers get courses on new media approved. I also developed a shorter course on It’s being used in school systems and universities and I often lecture at universities like AU myself. It’s nice to know that with this book people can feel empowered to come up with a story and make it happen. It talks everything from script to screen to marketing.

What’s happening at the 3rd annual DC Web and Digital Media Festival?

It will show the best in online original content in digital film, video games, web series, and interactive art. We’ll have screenings of selections, gallery space, and a reception. They’ll also be a press line, award ceremony, and after party. I hope it will be a lot of fun.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

You can get 99 no’s, but all you need is one yes and you need to remember that. It’s difficult because as much as you don’t want to feel like a crazy person for believing in yourself, everyone may be telling you no. If you’ve done the research and have your plan, you can make this happen, so keep believing.


DC Web Fest takes places Saturday, May 2 at the Goethe Institut – 812 Seventh Street, NW, Washington, DC.